Keeping Gutters Clean
Maintaining a home can be quite a chore. It can be especially burdensome when attempting to perform a task without being armed with the proper tools and equipment. Moreover, a lack of preventive home maintenance usually makes an already tough task much tougher – not to mention the fact that it usually ends up costing more. We call it the “pay now or pay more later” scenario.
One of the biggest threats to a home is water. The same great stuff that comes out of your pipes when you turn on a faucet becomes a threat when it makes its way out of a pipe without you ever nudging a faucet. Broken pipes, leaking drains and cracks in shower walls are just a few of the means by which water can damage your home from the inside.
A leaking roof, poorly flashed windows and doors, poorly maintained siding and bad drainage are the most common means of damage by water from the exterior. Damp basements or crawl spaces, cracks in concrete and/or foundations, sticking windows and doors, and rotted framing and siding are just a few of the most common water related problems.
Caulking, grout, valve gaskets, clean drains and good plumbing are your best defense against water damage that originates within your home. Well-cared-for roofing, siding, gutters and downspouts, and proper grading and drainage can prevent your home from becoming a casualty during inclement weather.
It may be easy to see how a damp basement or rotted siding can be caused by water. However, people often don’t see the relationship to water when it comes to sticking windows and doors, or a cracked foundation. Too much water can make a foundation sink or rise depending upon the type of soil and the specific conditions. For example, when wet, “expansive soil” can cause a concrete pier under your home to rise. This, in turn, can cause a hump in the floor. This movement often causes doors and windows to stick. It can also result in cracks over windows and doors.
Another potential hazard of too much water around (or under) a house is rot. The moisture in a constantly damp crawl space can condense on the floor framing and the underside of the subfloor ensuring their early demise.
One of the most effective means of preventing water from collecting around the perimeter of a home is a gutter system. If your home doesn’t have gutters and downspouts, install them. If it does, make sure that they are in good shape (not leaking), well anchored and kept clean. A dirty gutter is worse than not having gutters at all because it can act as a dam that allows water to back up causing roof leaks and rotten rafters and sheathing. The use of gutter guards will help prevent leaves from collecting within a gutter, but are no substitute from periodic gutter cleaning. Airborne dirt, runoff from the roof and deteriorating organic material (leaves, trigs, etc.) turn the inside of a gutter into a mulch pit. This material must be removed in order for the gutters to function properly.
Gutter cleaning doesn’t rank high on the list of how most people would like to spend a weekend, but it pays big dividends. Start with a sturdy ladder planted firmly on the ground. When using an extension ladder, avoid placing it against an unsupported section of gutter. Failure to do so can cause the gutter to collapse and result in serious injury.
Years ago, during a visit to a local hardware store, we came across a tool that makes gutter cleaning a lot easier. The “Gutter Getter” is a plastic scoop with a flexible tip that conforms to any size gutter. Interestingly, a gentleman who was trying feverishly to clean his ash-filled gutters that resulted when Mt. St. Helens blew its stack in 1980 invented it out of necessity. Several years later after growing tired of having to move his ladder so often to clean his gutters, he invented the “Gutter Grabber.” This nifty tool allows you clean up to 18 feet of gutter (9 feet in either direction) without having to move your ladder. Its pointed blade fits into the corner of the gutter with the two sides flat against the bottom and one side of the gutter – cleaning both at the same time. Very clever!
Next, use a garden hose with a spray attachment to thoroughly rinse the gutters and downspouts. Also, use the garden hose to “water test” the gutters and downspouts. Look for signs of deterioration and make needed repairs using a gutter caulk.
Prevent downspouts from becoming clogged by installing a strainer in the gutter immediately above the outlet to a downspout. The strainer allows rainwater to flow through while gutter debris is stopped where it can be easily cleaned away. Just don’t forget to keep the strainer clean.
Unfortunately, having clean gutters and downspouts isn’t enough. The mistake that many people make is to permit downspouts to discharge at the foundation’s edge. This results in the condition discussed earlier. A good rainwater collection system doesn’t end at the bottom of the downspout. At a minimum, a pre-cast (concrete or plastic) diverter should be placed below each and every downspout to direct water away from the house. This system is usually only effective if the ground surrounding your home slopes away from the foundation and water is not allowed to puddle.
A better, more effective system consists of a solid drainpipe located below ground that connects to every downspout and discharges into a municipal storm drain or other water collection system. Keep in mind that this system is no substitute for proper grading at the perimeter of your home. Use a steel rake along with a shovel to grade the soil to slope away from the foundation.
A little preventive maintenance can go a long way in keeping both your home and pocketbook healthy.